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Commercial fishing citations increase as Bristol Bay sockeye run heats up

Alex Hager/KDLG

Each year during sockeye salmon season, Alaska State Troopers come from around the state to patrol Bristol Bay. Spokesperson Austin McDaniel says it’s a busy time.

“We have troopers in from Kodiak, other parts of western Alaska, as well as South Central and even interior Alaska, flown in during this special enforcement period, which occurs every year during this largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world,” McDaniel said.

Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon industry is estimated to generate 2.2 billion dollars of economic value each year. There are currently more than 1,500 commercial fishing boats registered in the bay, each competing for their share of this year’s catch.

As the run picked up this week, so did the citations. State Troopers report 21 fishing violations around Bristol Bay since Tuesday, July 5.

Most were for commercial fishing in closed waters or during a closed period, with a few additional citations for incorrectly marking vessels and gear.

More than half the citations were in the Nushagak District, with most of the rest in the Egegik District and the Naknek/Kvichak District.

McDaniel says there are Troopers patrolling on the water, on the beaches, and from the air. And there are more patrols in areas that are being fished harder.

“Simply because there's more people there. And we're trying to ensure that everybody is playing by the same rules everyone is, you know, fishing fair, and fishing in legal areas,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel has tips for fishermen to avoid citations.

“Just as we would typically remind everybody: make sure that you're keeping track of the openers, keep tracking when things close, paying attention to your GPS marking so that way you're not drifting off into close waters, and just be courteous out there to your fellow fishermen,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel says the number of citations they’ve handed out is typical for this time in the run. Those who were cited can pay a fee or fight the citation in court.

Meg Duff is a fisheries reporter for KDLG's Bristol Bay Fisheries Report. She is also a freelance journalist, writing and making audio stories for publications like Scientific American, MIT Technology Review, Outside, Slate and Yale Climate Connections. Meg has a master's in journalism from New York University.